August 21, 2015

Merlin Malinowski

Merlin Malinowski, naturally nicknamed "The Magician," had one of all the great names in hockey history.

Too bad "The Magician's" great disappearing act was vanishing from the National Hockey League.

In the days before the internet, the only real proof most fans had of his disappearance was right on his hockey card - O Pee Chee card #142 of the 1983-84 set. It, too, goes down as one of the all time great hockey cards in hockey history.

"Playing In Europe" it said in black bold face on the front of the card. What an oddity. Several times O Pee Chee would add such notes to cards who were traded from one team to another, should the trades have happened to late for O Pee Chee's printing deadlines.

But "Playing In Europe" was a rare message indeed.

The card, featuring Malinowski in his last days with the Hartford Whalers, is also famous for the great look at the Cooperall pants that the Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers and several junior teams fashioned in the 1980s. Like acid was jeans and feathered hair, thankfully that trend did not last. But it certainly makes for good conversation when fans of any generation see the card nowadays.

Malinowski was a skilled and slight centerman who played his junior in great Western Canadian towns like Drumheller and Medicine Hat. The smooth skater dominated the scoreboard nightly.

The Colorado Rockies selected Malinowski 27th overall in the 1978 NHL draft. After a couple of seasons of apprenticing, the magic show arrived in 1980-81 when he scored 25 goals and 62 points playing alongside Ron Delorme and Randy Pierce. Malinowski was named as Colorado's top player that season.

After moving with the entire franchise to New Jersey in 1982, Malinowski played only five games with the Devils before joining the Whalers. The rest of that season he only scored five goals, though he added 23 assists.

In the summer of 1983 he was faced with a tough decision - accept a two-way contract offer with the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins, or go to Europe. Obviously he informed the Penguins - and O Pee Chee - he was off to Europe.

After 282 NHL games (scoring 54 goals, 111 assists and 165 points) Malinowski played eight more seasons in Switzerland. 

But the highlight of his international tour - and of his whole career - was representing Canada at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Playing before nearby family and friends, Malinowski scored five points in eight games. Unfortunately Dave King's Canadian national team finished just outside of the medals.

“It was the greatest 10 days of my career,” said Malinowski of the Olympics. “Growing up as a kid we loved going to tournaments on the weekend, and this was just the ultimate hockey tournament.”

“It was such a thrill to put on that sweater,” he said of playing for Team Canada. “Because I was from the West and I played my junior hockey in Southern Alberta and my grandfather was able to get there, my grandma was there, my mom, my dad, aunts, uncles, cousins. It was just phenomenal.”

Malinowski returned to Switzerland retired by 1991. He would also coach in Switzerland for several years beyond that. 

Malinowski returned to Canada in 2003 and has been coaching youth ever since. He has also been working for a fuel distribution company in St. Mary's, Ontario.

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